WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As 2016 comes to a close, John Zimbrick can officially say he has broadcasted on the air for six decades.
The Purdue University adjunct professor has kept up his self-described second life playing jazz selections since he was in college, a streak only interrupted when his day job became too busy. He is part of Purdue's School of Health Sciences and a professor emeritus at Colorado State University.
Zimbrick has practiced his passion for jazz in many places, including Washington, D.C., and Kansas, and he has interviewed top talent.
He plays albums from his own vast collection on his show, "Jazz Cornucopia," which airs on WBAA from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday on 920 AM, 105.9 FM and WBAA Jazz 101.3 FM HD 2.
Here are excerpts from his interview with the Journal & Courier.
On interviewing Duke Ellington.
As a student at Carleton College, Zimbrick became heavily involved with the school's radio station, fitting jazz pieces in between pop songs during his segments on the air.
His first interview? None other than jazz legend Duke Ellington, the radio host said.
In 1958, Ellington came to Carleton as part of its jazz series, and after his band finished rehearsing, a young Zimbrick said he asked if the bandleader would accompany him to the radio studio.
Ellington obliged, and Zimbrick remembers the two discussing Ellington's use of individual soloists and his ability to compose in hotel rooms.
Looking back, Zimbrick remembers how nice Ellington was. He also wishes he'd been able to record their conversation.
"We had one tape recorder at the radio station, and it was broken," Zimbrick said.
On why Zimbrick has been able to keep up his passion for 60 years.
As a young boy growing up in Killdeer, North Dakota, Zimbrick often tuned into the radio at night.
"Jazz was what I picked up on, and … I can't explain it," he said. "My parents didn't listen to it, didn't care for it that much, but they didn't stop me."
And something inside him wanted to share his passion with others. He remembers lugging his record player to his father's department store, placing it on a shelf in the toy department and spinning sounds from there.
Throughout Zimbrick's life, jazz has been his constant.
"That gave me a chance to just completely escape … and just focus on the music, even if it was just for a few hours," Zimbrick said.
On the best call he's taken.
As a radio host in Washington, D.C., in 1984, Zimbrick was known for playing a wide variety of jazz. But his show didn't have a name, and a listener suggested that it should, he said.
"It kind of developed in my thinking that it would be fun to run a contest and see what people say the name should be," Zimbrick said.
He remembers making a list of all the recommendations he received. In the end, he settled on "Jazz Cornucopia," submitted by a caller he remembers as particularly friendly.
And that, Zimbrick said, has been the show's name ever since.
Call J&C reporter Domenica Bongiovanni at 765-420-5247. Follow her on Twitter: @DomenicaReports.